At the 81st Academy Awards in early 2008, Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” took home eight awards, including Best Director, while Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” lost both categories in which it was nominated.
But that didn’t stop Boyle from wanting to emulate Aronofsky’s cinematic approach for his next project. Thus, “127 Hours” follows one central character, in much the same way that “The Wrestler” focused on Mickey Rourke’s damaged grappler. Boyle’s new film is based on the true story of an avid outdoorsman who becomes trapped under a boulder in the wildness and is forced to saw off his own arm to escape. James Franco plays the unfortunate hiker.
The film is one that Boyle has wanted to make for years. Only after virtually sweeping the Oscars, and being inspired by Aronofsky’s style, though, did he move forward with the project. As part of MTV News’ Fall Movie Preview, Boyle called us to chat about how his career has changed since “Slumdog,” the challenges of making a film about a man who can’t move, and why “127 Hours” may not be the ideal date movie.
MTV: How are you?
Danny Boyle: Good. We’re mixing “127 Hours” at Pinewood, and we’ve been kicked out of the big theater by “Harry Potter.” We’re next door in the little theater.
MTV: I guess if you’re going to be kicked out by anybody, they have a big thing going on.
Boyle: They’re not even here! Do you know what they do? It’s a big bank holiday this weekend here in Britain, and we’re working right through the weekend to get it ready, and what they do is they book the theater for months and nothing happens! It’s like, “Really?”
MTV: Well, it is great to talk to you. So, you had, you know, a little bit of success with “Slumdog Millionaire.” Coming off of that, why this one?
Boyle: I’d always wanted to do it. The story has an instant tension that draws everyone’s attention to it. So many people remember it vaguely. But it wasn’t that. I wanted to make the film and I tried to get it going. Of course, it’s a tough subject, but I had a way of doing it that wasn’t what you think. It would be compelling and would occupy you completely as a viewer so that the whole barrier — it’s just one guy stuck in one place — that wouldn’t become an issue because you’d be with him. You would be him, in effect. That was always my take on it.
Anyway, once “Slumdog” kicked off, [producer] Christian [Colson] and I thought, “This is our chance to make this.” There’s no other moment in our careers when we’ll get a chance to make something like this, which is really a tricky prospect for any studio or financier. So we worked on it, we prepared a script, and then we had to find an actor. That’s the key to this. Beyond our vision of it, you have to have someone who’s not only going to share the vision but actually going to carry it much more than any film like “Slumdog” or a thriller or a big love story or anything that has a plot or the dynamics changing between two people. It’s just one guy. We got Franco. He’s amazing in it.
MTV: There are a couple ways to go off something like “Slumdog.” Either you go with the project you’ve been wanting to make, or I’m sure you were offered every project under the sun.
Boyle: I don’t think like that. It’s such an amazing thing that happened that you have to take advantage in the right way. It’s why we wanted to get [“127 Hours”] ready for Toronto, because that’s where we started with “Slumdog.” We wanted to take back there a film that had been made in its shadow. It’s wonderful to do that, because suddenly it’s not an intimidating shadow, it’s liberating because it’s a success that’s allowed you to make something you’ve always wanted to make and you believe but wouldn’t get made otherwise. Even though people, before they see the film, might think it a peculiar choice, but the film is really accessible. Whether they can get people into [the theater], I don’t know. If you want to take a girl on a Friday and say, “What should we go and see?” it’s tough to say, “It’s a film about a guy who cuts his arm off. What do you think?” But once you’re in there, it’s a big story for everyone. It’s a very universal thing.
MTV: What are the challenges for you as a filmmaker, keeping things dynamic, and the challenges for an audience? Do you imagine them feeling what Franco is feeling for the length of the movie?
Boyle: I always thought of it as the opposite of inert. Superficially, it looks inert, because he’s stationary. But I’d always thought of it as an action movie. He can’t move, but it’s an action movie. That’s what we’ve tried to do. I’m not going to brag now. You guys will have to decide whether we’ve succeeded or not, but that was the intention. I remember when we were doing “Slumdog,” and Darren Aronofsky showed up with “The Wrestler.” It’s one of those films that you look at as a director and think, “That’s it. You just follow this one actor around.” It’s different from his other movies, and it’s different from my other movies, but I wanted to make one like that, where it’s just you and an actor.
MTV: I heard you talk about the videos that the hiker, Aron Ralston, took when he was stuck, and how he changed over those few days as he became dehydrated. Was the physical transformation difficult for Mr. Franco? How do you accomplish that in the film?
Boyle: You can’t, because you can’t do it safely. It’s not like carbohydrate loss. You hear about an actor losing weight or putting on weight for parts. You can’t do that, because it happens over six days. He starts as an incredibly healthy young man and then this footage I saw by the end, when he’d been without water, the difference is shocking. It’s a vanishing. The only way you could do it is through CG, and we didn’t want to take that approach. We didn’t want to use makeup, but so much of the film is so close. It’s an intimate film. We tried to shoot in sequence to let James internally track it. We’ve not been able to move stuff. He was there for six days, and we’d go, “Can you move that line from day two to day four?” You can’t move it, because the journey is no nuanced. He becomes completely different. He’s a different person on each day. We’ve done it through James, rather than CG or weight loss.
MTV: What about the moment when he slowly cuts off his own arm? How long a sequence is that in the film? How much do we see and experience?
Boyle: It takes him 45 minutes in reality. It is in the film, obviously. The time it takes is respected by the filmmakers. We don’t cut away, pardon the expression, and come back and it’s gone. But it is cathartic, and that’s the key thing. The whole idea of the film is you enter the journey with him and you don’t cut away to a lot of people looking for him. It’s an immersive experience, and it’s cathartic when he does it because it’s a relief for everyone and a triumph in some way as well.
MTV: In terms of the music, it’s A.R. Rahman doing the score again after “Slumdog.” Can you speak a little about what he’s done?
Boyle: We’ve got a couple of songs, and the rest of the work is more guitar-based. Some of it is solo guitar, which felt appropriate given the nature of the story. Got a couple of wonderful songs. Free Blood (“Never Hear Surf Music Again”) at the beginning, which we used for the trailer. Music has always been a big part of a movie for me, and I hope we’ve done another one justice we’ve what we’ve used.
From the saucy Jessica Alba in “Little Fockers” to James Franco’s grueling journey in “127 Hours,” the MTV Movies team is delving into the hottest flicks of fall 2010. Check back daily for exclusive clips, photos and interviews with the films’ biggest stars.
Check out everything we’ve got on “127 Hours.”
For breaking news, celebrity columns, humor and more — updated around the clock — visit MTVMoviesBlog.com.